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Publisher’s Weekly, in early review of my new book, The Elements of Cooking, criticized it for being Francocentric—it should have been called The Elements of French Cooking, the unsigned reviewer wrote, and dismissed its lack of a broader world view (read the review on the amazon page here).  I first read this review upon returning from Chicago where I’d attended a weekend celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Charlie Trotter’s eponymous restaurant.  Trotter had invited a stellar group of internationally renowned chefs who flew in from across the globe—Pierre Hermé (Paris), Thomas Keller (California), Ferran Adria (Spain), Daniel Boulud (New York), Tetsuya Wakuda (Australia) and England’s Heston Blumenthal (photo courtesy of Charlie Trotter’s, and that’s the excellent David Myers, left, of Sona and Comme Ça in L.A., a veteran of Trotters who was invited in to prepare the canapés at a reception preceding the dinner). At a dinner a couple nights earlier hosted by Trotter, Adria told me that this was a historic occasion, to have this group of chefs together.

Few would deny that on a list of the top ten chefs of the world, these seven chefs have a rightful a place.  What was historic, though, Adria said, was that only one of them worked in France (Hermé, perhaps the world’s most reknowned patissier).

“Twenty years ago,” I asked, “most of them would be French?”

Adria said, “All of them.  Ten years ago.”

This gathering of chefs did indeed represent a fairly global portrait of the chef.  Not insignificantly, they’d all arrived to celebrate a chef who had taken the French approach to fine dining and translated it into a distinctly American-global idiom.  And perhaps it was no surprise that Arthur Lubow had also flown in for the celebrations, the journalist who four years ago, in an 8,000 word cover story on Adria in The New York Times Sunday Magazine pronounced the death of French Cuisine (the final words of the article are from a Spanish chef: “It’s a great shame what has happened in France, because we love the French people and we learned there. Twenty years ago, everybody went to France. Today they go there to learn what not to do.”).

It’s understandable for non-French folks to rejoice at the end of French supremacy in all things cuisine, which has had a pretty good run of, what, half a millennium?  The article and the death were embraced with glee, a big raspberry to those old fashioned, jingoistic French farts.  The PW reviewer of my book was surely amongst them, implying that something with a French bias was somehow wrong.

I don’t want to make guesses at the reason for this anti-French bias, nor do I mean to imply that an anti-French bias is wrong.  Eric Ripert, the Frenchman who co-owns and runs the Michelin three-star, New York Times four-star, restaurant Le Bernardin, told me on numerous occasions how the hidebound nature of the French chef and the culinary mandates of French haute cuisine shut down the imagination and innovation of young chefs.  Indeed, it’s unlikely that someone like Adria or Blumenthal or, in the United States, Wylie Dufresne (he did the canapés at a party for the chefs at Trotter’s house) or Grant Achatz, two of this countries most notable practitioners of the avant garde, could come out of such a culture.  These chefs are a large part of why the world dining scene has never been more exciting.Hestonthomas

But we cannot say that we’re beyond the French, or that the French influence is past and we’re on to newer and better times in the kitchen, that the king is dead and the wall has been torn down.  The child, non-French innovators, has not slain the father.  The fact is, for whatever historical and sociological reasons, French cuisine became the bedrock of all western cuisine, and more important, it gave us a common language.  The language of the kitchen is French-based.  Just as, say, English is the language used for communication between international pilots and air traffic controllers.

It was in French kitchens that the fundamentals of cooking were first named and codified.  It may be American, but it is called our cuisine.  The American chefs who compose our brigades still cut mirepoix as part of their daily mise en place, and the avant garde and cutting edge chefs cook sous vide.  And perhaps one of the most celebrated American restaurants ever, The French Laundry, explicitly looks to France for both its inspirations and innovation as well as to the culinary fundamentals that did not begin in France but that were given meaningful terminology there. (I  love the above shot of the Francophilic Keller regarding avant gardist Blumenthal’s seascape while listening to the sea sounds on the ipod.  Chicago Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans; copyright Chicago Tribune.)

In a restaurant culture perpetually seeking the next new thing, we need always remember where we came from and what our common language is.  Because if we don’t have a common language, then we have no way of communicating, and we are isolated with our innovations and discoveries, we have no voice.

I wrote my version of Strunk and White for the kitchen in order to name and describe all the terms a cook needs to know in the kitchen, whether that cook is in a home or working grill station on a Saturday night.  And yes, it could very well be called The Elements of French Cooking, I suppose—but I would argue with that anonymous reviewer.  This is its strength not a weakness.  That is why The French Laundry after 13 years remains an innovator in gastronomy.  Because Keller, and now Corey Lee and his brigade acknowledge daily a culinary heritage all cooks in the Western world share. Bon Appetit.

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302 Wonderful responses to “Unapologetic Francophilia”

  • mike pardus

    Steve- You said “Would you leave out the cure and give us all botulism and a different taste? ” …..which led me to believe that you associate the flavor of confit with the inhibition of botulism. The flavor of pastrami lies primarily in the nitrites and smoke, not the pepper – I could just as well used canadian bacon as an example. You seem to have a good knowledge of these things, excuse my assumption otherwise. I have found that Paula Wolfert’s recipe – calling for temp of 190F – works really well.

    BTW – for those who do not have your background – “Confit” means to preserve. Not only duck in it’s fat, but goose, pork, and other proteins…also, anything else by other means – “confiture de frambois” would be “raspberry preserves” in English; and candied orange peel would also be refered to as “confit”.

    FB – I don’t know you, you don’t know me. It should go without saying that you don’t need anyones approval to hold your beliefs…I only suggest that you observe first hand before you close your mind and attempt to sway others. If you have observed, I respect your right to have a dramatically different opinon than I and will ask for your well informed opinion to debate mine and try to change it. If you have not, then I reserve the right to call you on being uninformed. Please don’t make this personal…not in MR’s house.

  • Steven Morehead

    P.S.
    sometimes you NEED Foie (the credits) and sometimes you don’t (Star Wars)
    I’m sorry some duck might be getting hurt somewhere maybe. Then again I think the moonshine in my cupboard makes up for it.

  • Steven Morehead

    Dear Faust, I think I did a reasonably good job at DEFENDING Trotter’s point of view. I’m reminded of a story I heard about, of all things, Star Wars and George Lukas. During the production of Ep. 4 the Screen Actors Guild almost stopped the movie from being released because he would not put all of the applicable credits at the beginning. What resulted was the battleship coming out of no ware, and me falling out of my seat!!! I wanted that couple of minutes of information that no one understands to prepare myself for the rest of the movie. Also if he had skipped that first shot and started with the “along time ago…” it would have reminded me with a middle school sex ed tape I saw once.

  • Steven Morehead

    I understand that a cure with sodium nitrite would kill the botulism and affect the taste. The point I was trying to make is that traditional duck confit is cured duck legs (with plain old sodium and maybe some other flavor, like black pepper for your “pastrami” taste) poached in duck fat at between 170 and 180F and left to cool in the fat. If you are really lucky the next step is to leave it in your seller for some time to ripen. You can use salt because the duck will be in the temp/lack of oxygen/PH trifecta for less time than it takes to develop botulism. Read up on the production of prosciutto di Parma or other salt cured magical wonders for a better understanding of salt. Pastrami by the way is made from brined (with pink salt) brisket flavored with black pepper, coriander and SMOKE. Maybe if you were eating that corn-fed pastrrami it might taste something kind-of resembling duck confit, but I doubt it. I was really trying to find out how sous vide confit is better because if you followed all the same steps as I outlined I don’t see how you would get a different result and therefor something better. If anyone out there knows PLEASE correct me I really want to know so I can make some at my future restaurant (but probably not). And if you changed something so basic as the cure, the fat, or the temperature why not call it something different so I can have my beloved confit left alone.

  • faustianbargain

    p.s. crap..my comment to mike pardus was rude. if i have one rule in the blogworld, it is that i’d never to be rude to anyone older than my mother.

    the sentiment remains. my apologies for the delivery of it.

  • faustianbargain

    to mike pardus: wrt your point #2, can i wear my pink panties with an upside down mr.spock splitting his fingers on the first tuesday of every even numbered month? i ask because its important that i get your approval first!!! it means a great deal to me that you approve, you see…

    to tags: i’ll stop when bourdain does a show on animal welfare, participates in a protest or two, stop talking through his arse, does a vegetarian food show(the tasty kind..) and starts volunteering at PETA.

  • mike pardus

    Two points….
    1)Steve Morehead: A cure which would inhibit botulism would contain nitirates or nitirites – neither of which are common (but not unheard of either) in duck confit and would make the duck taste like pastrami – not like duck

    2)All of the anti-foie folks: If you are completly vegan and use no animal products because of an ethical stance, I can’t argue with you. You’re right and I’m right….my atheism does not invalidate your belief in god or vice versa.

    But if you consume meat and have not visited BOTH a Foster Farms poultry plant AND Hudson Valley Foie Gras and seen the difference with your own eyes, you should remove yourself from the discussion – you are not well informed enough to have a valid opinion about what constitutes humane animal husbandry and what does not.

    See DelGrosso’s Blog for details and photos of HVFG at

    http://ahungerartist.bobdelgrosso.com/search/label/foie%20gras

  • Nic Heckett

    ntsc – I suppose it is a matter of personal taste. I grew up in Ireland, where corn does not grow well (before the new strains that grow in cooler temps), but grass does. That is the taste of beef that I knew, and when I had grass-fed in the US for the first time, I realized how I missed that taste. Similar to barley finished pork, which is the taste I remember from my childhood. In the end, we all yearn for those tastes of childhood, which is why cuisine is the last aspect of the “Old Country” to disappear from our lives. A third generation Polish-American and a third generation Italian-American may be identical in their culture in every respect but the food they yearn to eat, the food from Grandma’s kitchen.

  • Tags

    I blame nondiregol for beating a dead horse to resurrection.

    At this point Meatlesstopheles with the Faustian Blinders felt compelled to begin a “dialogue.” FB can always be counted on to join a discussion so she can unload on Bourdain, who makes life miserable by clearly demonstrating the folly of PETA’s anti-foie campaign, most recently on his holiday No Reservations.

    I have to take some of the blame, taking the reins of our equine Lazarus and riding him into a pissing contest for which there is no discernible “winner.”

  • ntsc

    Nic

    If you are talking factory beef, I agree with you. The steer was taken from his mother too soon, taken out of the pasture too soon and is being fed too much corn at an age it makes him sick, so he gets dosed with anti-biotics.

    On the other hand if you are talking about essentially hand raised beef from a small farmer that is ‘finished’ for the last few weeks before slaughter with corn and no hormones and anti-biotics. I think that tastes better than grass fed.

    In the 70s my then wife and I used to buy a quarter, as needed, from a friend who farmed that way, and it was in a different league than anything I’ve ever gotten from a butcher or super-market. The best steak I ever remember was from his son’s 4H project.

  • Claudia

    NTSC:

    Notice the use of the word “PROBABLY one of the first cookbooks”. There are doubtlessly older ones, but Patina’s was one of the first to enjoy widespread dissemination in Europe, and to have its recipes and general theory about cuisine and health set down, formally. (I hesitatwe to use the word “codified.”)

  • ntsc

    Claudia

    I did notice that, I just found it an odd coincidence to have noticed what you said, and within a few hours to be given two books that take cookbooks back 1500 more years.

    No offense intended.

  • Claudia

    No offense taken, N – and enjoy sitting down and read those those ancient texts. What a blast! It’s still interesting to note that, no matter who produced the first one, they all came out of Italy – either through the Romans, initially, andlater through northern and central Italians (like Platina, Martino, etc.)

    Your books must be quite beautiful – and fragile. What a treasure.

  • ntsc

    Sorry, my post can be read that way, but they are modern cookbooks (Sausage making and Bacon) that make reference to a Roman cookbook.

    Somebody who will go nameless go me into sausage making.

    I believe I’ve seen a copy, but the owner didn’t let anyone else handle it as it was the prize of his collection.

  • Nic Heckett

    Corn-fed beef is not a better flavor. It is a blander flavor, that many Americans have grown to prefer over grass-fed. Grass-fed is much more complex in taste. IMHO.

  • Steven Morehead

    First, why are we still having this Trotter-foie gras debate. Isn’t it a little like kicking a dead horse (which some of you don’t like because it is cruel, and the rest of us don’t like because it tastes bad!!!) Both sides need to chill out. Judge Trotter on what he does choose to cook, a reasonable person could say “this mousse de foie gras that Trotter served without the foie needs foie, but we they can also say thank you for not putting foie in my ice cream!!” Can we all just get along.

    Second,logicalmind, why cook confit sous vide? How would that make it BETTER/DIFFERENT? Would you leave out the cure and give us all botulism and a different taste? Or maybe leave out the duck fat and therefor the “classical” flavor? Or maybe the attraction is the fancy name or the little plastic baggy. Or it that you want to make use of that vacuum machine and your thermal circulator that you paid through the nose to get. Maybe you should read about confit in “Charcutrie.” I don’t mean to sound mean, but the idea “sous vide confit” and confit are so so similar I just don’t see the advantage. The only advantage that I see is that you would not lose any of the moisture, but then you would not have the concentrated jelly to make salad dressing out of. If you are suggesting something different than “sous vide confit” why not call it something different? Would you do it at like rare so you could keep the color/texture, why is that better? This is where a good understanding of the French fundamentals comes in handy. How do you know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been? Ruhlman’s point is that at wd-50 they are still calling what they are making “hollandaise” even though it is not “classic.” Part of the reason that Escoffier is important, and that many people forget, is his role in changing French food. For his day he was a progressive. So I don’t think change is bad, but change things to make them better not just different.

  • Tags

    If you feed corn to a cow or bull, there’s a good chance they won’t survive. Not only does it cause an enormous amount of gas, but a lack of the ruminant’s normal diet of grasses will cause complications including but not limited to decreased immune function.

    Taste? Mostly, that depends on what you’ve been conditioned to eat. This Is the age of Rachael Ray, and Ritz Crackers, Duncan Hines, and Dunkin Donuts are the preferred tastes.

  • luis

    Tags, I have to agree with your last comment. I over reacted a bit at the discussion which took such a wrong turn from the original post by Ruhlman. Thinking folks like yourself and many others agree with going organic and cutting back on red meat a bit.
    Foie gras is a niche ingredient and as such I don’t really consider it significant. Really if you enjoy it then fine.
    In the new year I plan to explore more sauces and techniques for vegetables and fish. In 06 I tried using the microwave more but gave up after I learned first hand that regardless of the microwave itself cooking times depend on the quantity, arrangement(temperament if you will) and mass of what you are cooking. So unless you camp out next to the micro and take baby steps you are likely to be extremelly dissapointed by its results. One thing is to know something is not done and quite another is to understand why such thing should not be done.
    I love the slow cooker for a hands off braises and soups. I look forward to using the pressure cooker much more next year for quicker meals and tastier grains and beans and vegetarian dishes. All very very healthy stuff. Of course I use the steamer a lot. I think it would be easy to go vegetarian if one wished, healthy too. Thanks for the book references. Right now if I was to guess the percentage of recipes in my database that are protein-less, I’d say maybe 20-40%. I will code in a subcategory to track this information. Something to think about… I break down my ingredient lists into proteins, veggies-legumes and Herbs and/or spices.

  • ntsc

    I use this only as one of many examples:

    “which translates to me as ‘sterile hybrid ducks gorging themselves is natural’…which makes me wonder…why mulard ducks? why not geese as it originally was..the answer is because the hybrid ducks are more resistant to disease and stress. geese are notoriously difficult to raise…ask any europeon farmer.”

    there seems to be a very faustian problem with food that is not ‘natural’.

    I point out that most beef comes from corn fed steers, neither corn feeding nor steers are ‘natural’. The corn feeding, if done properly results in a better tasting beef, and the steer is easier to handle. Both adding value to the producer. Corn fed young bull, by the way is tastier but a lot harder to produce.

    ‘Goose fat rules’ Cry often heard echoing down the basement corridor outside Garde Mange I at CIA.

  • Tags

    Last but not least, the decline of the popularity of French cooking coincides with the rise of the popularity of Rachel, Paula, Aunt Sandy, and Emeril.

    Whether it’s lovemaking or cooking, the French bring a refinement that can only come from patient attention to craft. Like the musclecars you could buy for $10,000 ten years ago, French cooking and service skills will rebound and be more popular (and more valuable) in a little while.

    Food service skills, I mean.

  • ntsc

    Claudia

    you wrote: “No, Caterina de Medici did not bring the fork to France upon her marriage to Henri II, nodiregol – it was invented by the Venetians. But she did bring fashion, food, apothecaries (the legendary lavender fields of Provence were planted to supply her apothecaries and perfumers), etc., to the French Court. Probably the first cookbook in Europe was De honest voluptate e vulturine (On Honest Pleasures and Good Health), published in Latin in Venice in 1475, and written by Patina, a scholar, humanist and the Vatican librarian.

    snip”

    two of the cookbooks I got for Xmas list the first cookbook as by Apicius the Roman epicure. One says it is still extant (Sausage book by Aidells). I belive a copy to be owned by the proprietar of the resturant Des Artistes in NYC.

  • Tags

    Actually, the foie birds are respected a lot more than factory-farmed chickens, notwithstanding what the goosesteppo agitprop machine propagates.

    Again, unnatural is a loaded word, and in this case, misleading. Ducks gorge themselves naturally, migratory or stationary, straight or hybrid. Often they gorge themselves with long-spiked fish that, like a feeding tube, does not trigger a gag reflex because they don’t have a gag reflex.

    Myself, I’ve only tried foie once, and it wasn’t even pure foie, but a pate made from it. It was nothing special to me. Meat now makes up a much smaller part of my diet, thanks to Michael Pollan and Peter Kaminsky. What I do eat, I get either kosher or organic. I have nothing against vegetarians or vegans, though I’m not above teasing them from time to time.

    The book I enjoyed reading the most was by Sy Montgomery, a vegetarian who raised a pig with her Jewish husband (Howard) and called the book she wrote about it “the good good pig, the extraordinary life of christopher hogwood.”

    What I do have an issue with is people that jump on a bandwagon to outlaw or intimidate small farmers who probably employ more people than the mechanized factory farms.

  • luis

    Right foie grass…. ad nausseum.. Basically garbage in garbage out applies here. Pork fat rules not liver fat. A niche fat is like any other niche anything.. It’s appeal is to the few and not to the many. That is no reason to elevate it above its unnatural production means. How would anyone enjoy getting a tube shoved down their throats every day and fed crap? Then the grand finale is just as bad. Disrespect the bird and pay the price. Just like the recent plagues on animal stock being fed crap…dead carcasses of diseased animals. In nature and in business there is no such thing as a win lose. Eat it at your own risk.

  • Tags

    “the majority of the regular readers of this blog long ago made up their minds that foie gras is not only natural and humane, but in fact that it is the paragon of humane animal care and should somehow be the model upon which all farming practices should be based.”

    Then “I have attempted in the past on this and other blogs to argue that foie gras is not only unnatural but also likely the product of a severe pathologic disease process. Alas, my comments have fallen on deaf ears (blind eyes?).”

    Perhaps you might consider tuning your arguments. Picking on the most arcane and trivial word in my post, migratory, you proceeded to build a “case” against a natural characteristic of ducks, hybrid or otherwise.

    Somehow, the true-believer in you couldn’t resist mentioning that mulard “mules” were only in existence because of the profit potential for three small-scale foie producers in North America. Of course, that is pure Goosesteppo propaganda, ignoring that ducks cross-breed in the wild when opportunity knocks.

    I don’t much blame you for trying to take the easy way out. Smithfield, Tyson, and ConAgra are hard targets with vast resources. You are right to be wary of dealing with such cunning and ruthless adversaries.

    But don’t attack people trying to make a living, not just for themselves but for their employees, with egregiously specious quarrels.

    And you don’t wear the nit-picking well, either.

  • faustianbargain

    tags, english is not my first language. and i remain unimpressed.

    sfchin: but you should never stop trying!

    for example..we heard tags say:

    “In the real world, nobody but PETA propagandists would argue against the statement that waterfowl not only fatten, but gorge themselves prior to migrating.”

    which translates to me as ‘sterile hybrid ducks gorging themselves is natural’…which makes me wonder…why mulard ducks? why not geese as it originally was..the answer is because the hybrid ducks are more resistant to disease and stress. geese are notoriously difficult to raise…ask any europeon farmer. in other words, the very existence of foie gras is based on the profits they bring and not because it is ‘natural’. it is one thing to derive foie gras as a natural by product and totally another to breed sterile hybrid birds by the thousands….manually force feed them rather than waiting till they gorge themselves to fatten their livers.year around foie gras production is also not natural…waterfowls migrate and have breeding seasons. of course…cant expect that out of sterile hybrid ducks!! tags, of course, will say that it is “natural”.

    here is my point, sfchin..i believe in people. i believe in the freedom of choice. i also believe in free markets. what i dont believe in is the false packaging and lies and propaganda of the foie gras industry. somehow i think that if they didnt pepper ‘natural’ all over their product, it wouldnt sell. thinking and any single celled organism with the ability to read can see how ‘natural’ foie gras really is…this continual dumbing down of the consumer by lying would be hilarious if it werent so pathetic and embarassing.

    this is much like the discussion about the title of ruhlman’s book…french cuisine is awesome, but there is more to other world cuisines. i think of french cooking as a well organised template that can be applied to other cuisines, but the french canon is not so inclusive as to define all cooking.

    foie gras as fattened goose liver may have been ‘natural’ at some point. it is not so anymore. just because its origins are natural, we cant assign that myth to include the foie gras of the 20th century.

    i suspect there is still some shame in this world when one is recognised as someone who consumes cruelly produced and humanly/connivingly manipulated food. hence the lies to launder the glaring flaws of modern foie gras production. its not like a fully stuffed, naturally engorged goose fell from the air mid-migration and we said..”oh shucks! i’ll have me some natural foie gras this xmas. hallelujah!!”…our foie gras, its different, innit? hence the apologist, revisionist verbiage. that gives me hope. which is why you cant stop trying.

  • Tags

    SB – I’m sure I’d impress people by telling them that a weathervane shows which way the wind blows.

    Used to, as in, used to stand up for the humane small farmers who make foie (pre-cave days)

    SFC – “foie gras is natural since waterfowl fatten up before migration” is only wrong when you twist the facts. In the real world, nobody but PETA propagandists would argue against the statement that waterfowl not only fatten, but gorge themselves prior to migrating. Some might not know that they eat long pointy-spined fish, but I don’t mind… I can explain that.

    “Factory farming is evil” – just because you miss the point of contrasting small, humane farmers against large, soulless corporate farmers doesn’t make it pointless.

  • sfchin

    Tags, I am afraid that it is you who have the facts twisted. Mulards are non-migratory, being a sterile hybrid of the Muscovy and the domestic duck (descended from the Mallard). The Muscovy is nonmigratory, and some wild populations of Mallards migrate while others do not. Even in other species that do consistently migrate, they do not expand their livers to anywhere near the degree seen in foie gras. Foie gras simply is not a “naturally occurring” phenomenon. Of course, most domesticated livestock are also not “naturally occurring” animals either, but let us not fool ourselves by pretending that the pre-migratory gorging of wild waterfowl is any sort of justification for the production of foie gras.

    Also (and entirely beside the point), while certain species of carnivorous ducks like the Merganser do eat large fish, the Muscovy and the Mallard are dabbling ducks, meaning that they eat by skimming vegetation and the occasional insect or other invertebrate off the surface of the water. While I have never argued that the process of gavage is painful or stressful to the ducks, it is (obviously) a completely unnatural way of feeding a duck.

  • sfchin

    Faustian-

    The problem, I think, is that the majority of the regular readers of this blog long ago made up their minds that foie gras is not only natural and humane, but in fact that it is the paragon of humane animal care and should somehow be the model upon which all farming practices should be based. The knee-jerk reaction to anyone who appears to be against foie gras is that they are either misinformed, ignorant, or have an ulterior motive of promoting universal veganism.

    I have attempted in the past on this and other blogs to argue that foie gras is not only unnatural but also likely the product of a severe pathologic disease process. Alas, my comments have fallen on deaf ears (blind eyes?). The counterarguments invariably fall into one of two categories: 1) foie gras is natural since waterfowl fatten up before migration, and 2) factory farming is the big evil. Number 1 is just plain wrong, and number 2 is pointless. Attempting to engage in logical debate about this subject has only led to frustration, so I have stopped trying. Sad, but true.

  • faustianbargain

    i dont get the weathervane references..but i am sure you meant it to sound impresssive.

    i dont know…if someone ‘used’ to be a burglar…can he not be reformed? if someone ‘used’ to be a liar…is he doomed to be one for the rest of his life? if someone ‘used’ to be ignorant, is there a justifiable reason to remain benighted?

    some of us abseil…some of us crash and burn…and still some of us choose to hang ourselves..

    re perspective…all the foie gras ‘farmers’ in the world cant compare to smithfield? perspective is knowing how many people in the world can afford foie gras compared to the number of people who can afford “quality” smithfield products?

    what does smithfield got to do with anything anyways…good grief! getting across a point is like swimming in a sea of treacle.

  • Tags

    Caved, as in, used to sell it,

    checked the weathervane in the (much larger and less well-informed) non-chef community,

    stopped selling it.

  • Tags

    You asked for perspective, you got it.

    All the foie producers in the world combined couldn’t even dot one of the “i”s in Smithfield.

    If you want to plead courage of convictions, tilt at THAT windmill.

  • luis

    Well said Ruhlman. Cooking needs a common language that is universally understood. French is fine since they have perfected such language. I have no problem with it. I know of nobody lining up to buy xantham gum or any particular reason they should. The basic kitchen oven is the most versatile multitasker and indispensable appliance in the kitchen. Microwave ovens fall a mile short of replacing it. The immersion blender is another niche gadget destined for industrial high volume unitasking processes.
    Flavor comes from a lot of things, mostly from the fat you are cooking in. Maybe you can throw in a slice of fat back into that plastic envelope you put in the immersion blender? but it seems like a very bland process. All the geeks on Iron chef look ridiculous and their dishes look as un apetizing as anything Bourdain eats in his tour.(When is that guy going to cook something worth eating?). The point is, you can push the envelope up or down and just getting noticed isn’t necessarily a good thing. To make a nationalistic review out your “Elements of Cooking” is not helpful. The book sets out to help everyone communicate better in the kitchen and that is a good thing. I was over at Mariane Esposito’s web page looking over her christmas recipes and they are so Italian that I passed on them. Hard core ethnic cuisine requires a trained palate and is an acquired taste. (Tell that to that psycho chef Bourdain…). In the end everything we eat is American.. whether it originated in Thailand or Italy. What we are ultimatelly left with is a common language to assimilate such cuisines and make them our own.

  • faustianbargain

    to tags:

    caved? peer pressure? i think the real pressure is from chefs who want to keep foie gras on their menus and want charlie trotter’s backing…and certain ex-chefs who will stoop to any level for shits and giggles.

  • faustianbargain

    to bob delgrosso: charlie trotter’s stand isnt against freedom of choice. how can it be? he didnt even announce the absence of foie gras in his menu until mark caro made an entertainment piece out of it for chicago tribune. he chose not to serve foie gras…and what damage did he do to the ‘farmers’? what is it? sonoma, hudson valley and another one whose name slips my memory..these are hardly ‘farmers’..they are businessmen selling an overpriced luxury item..essentially a monopoly…its still a capitalist society. they can quit if it cant put porridge on their tables and pick another product to sell. its not like they are harvesting tomatoes and beans from their 1/4 acre plot and someone ruined their lives..some perspective, please.

  • Tags

    Charlie Trotter’s decision to stop serving foie is all about peer pressure.

    The people who defend the humane practice of raising fowl for foie gras are in the unenviable position of arguing for something most people are easily misled about. Misled by zealots whose misguided antics are embraced by the news organizations.

    If anything, Charlie caved.

  • Juliette

    re: foie. Personally, I applaud Charlie Trotter for acting on his conscience and not letting himself be intimidated by peer pressure.

    Conforming with the majority is always easiest. I admire him for standing on principle (a refreshingly different principle than “It’s good to do simply because I like to eat it!”)

  • Bob delGrosso

    nondiregol

    Trotter’s decision to not sell foie gras certainly gave much courage and credibility to the enemy, but he’s hardly directly responsible for having it banned.

    He did not lobby the quislings in city council or make TV commercials for PETA. But much in the manner of a President who comes out for a god while he’s in office, he became indirectly responsible for the conversion of those who were overawed by the authority of his position.

    I still think he deserves to called out on his stand against freedom of choice, and take some responsibility for the damage he has done to the farmers who produce foie gras. But he is not one of the primary villains here.

  • truenorthern

    French cooking is the bedrock on which western cuisine is built. Full stop.

    Train cooks in the classics and they can cook anything. Saying French cooking is dated is lie saying classical music is dated. It’s true it’s familiar and one knows what’s coming; the joy is how a particular chef (and conductor) arrives there.

  • faustianbargain

    regardless, it is a downright lie that trotter was ‘singlehandedly’(determined or leading)responsible for the foie gras debacle in chicago. the timeline proves that the entire namecalling started AFTER the ban..when mark caro tried to incite the two chefs into a verbal war..and asking them how they felt about the ban..and playing uninvited messenger boy between them…ricky.t called trotter a hypocrite and trotter threw back a few choice(and admittedly unfortunate) words at his one time kitchen staff.

    in the meantime, mischiefmakers and gossip mongers(and attention seekers..you know who you are) did what comes naturally to them. this doesnt make their stories A FACT.

    but then again, this is the land where fox tv delivers “news”. and this is afterall only food industry gossip. lets face it..wars are fought without checking facts…in the bigger picture, this doesnt matter. yet..for what it is worth..a lie is a lie. and a fact is still a fact.

    that trotter wasnt serving foie gras was not even common knowledge..much less news..before mark caro who usually writes for the entertainment section decided to make it ‘more interesting’. of course..other ‘entertainers’ followed.

    the entire crowd talking shit about trotter(and puck) are looking entirely foolish and impotent. stop it. i understand that gossip is essentially incestual newsreporting..that does not transform fantastical lies into facts.

  • kanani

    Pahhh!
    Last year, my writer & editor friends and I were going through the reviews at PW. We felt they couldn’t be seen as “the standard,” and that it was a pity that Amazon puts so much weight on their opinion by listing it first. Because many are as picky and biased as any amateur blog entry. Some are incredibly shrill, others downright pretentious. This isn’t to say that one can thumb their nose at PW but perhaps it’s more valid to look at those who’ve said good things, which includes Alton Brown and Jacques Pepin.

    Besides, I know of no perfect book. A writer writes the best book he or she can often over a period of years. Sure, you could’ve put wok, udon, tamari in there, even ghee, and chapathi but you didn’t. Who cares? You focused on what you thought was essential from your POV.You provided a knowlegable and engaging read. People who read it will be that much smarter. So be it.

    And Merry Christmas!

  • Vincent

    faustianbargain…no doubt some people have gotten some info from the papers and the web, as in articles like this one:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0504070058apr07,1,5263303.story?coll=chi-news-hed

    Whether or not he actually feels one way or another about force feeding is lost in most of the articles. Bourdain has some writings on egullet as well on the same topic. And if a chef decides not to serve goose liver (or any product for that matter) I don’t see how that ((or any comment regarding actual press)) makes any difference. Maybe that person’s point was that Trotter has a HUGE voice on the subject and his actions will cause others to follow for no other reason but to be like him.

    Kaylne…I disagree on most points of your post. There is nothing really dated about French cooking – they are actually still cooking to this day! The skills and techniques provided in Elements as well as many others over the years are a base to expand culinary knowledge. The techniques haven’t changed because cows and pigs haven’t changed (much) – vegetables are still vegetables and a good stock is still a good stock. You still break down a chicken the same way. It’s a base to set your kitchen correctly, a way into expanding your culinary knowledge. It seems easy to say that the fundamentals aren’t needed but they are for most. You seem to have knowledge of food and I get that, but the title of the book isn’t “The Elements of Global Cooking” or “Stock up on ponzu and a good amount of Abalone.” As for modern kitchens, ingredients and techniques – we all know the major 3 they came from and are just expanding from what they offered us.

    Claudia – anytime you are in the Dallas area drinks are on me. The caja is FREAKING AWSOME!! I actually helped one of my stewards make one out of an old Dr. Pepper cooler this week. It took some tweaking – the cooler was actually WAY too hot with the coals on top so we adjusted after the 1st two burned paletas. My neighbors are sure to taste the crispiest pork skin in 2 days! Sour oranges didn’t hold up – I’ll make my own mojo.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • FoodPuta

    Oh this is just great Mr. Ruhlman!

    I go to all this effort to learn a few French cooking techniques, then come to find out I missed that memo that said French cuisine isn’t cool anymore.

    Now I have to go back to calling my croque monsieur a grilled cheese with gravy again.

    can I get a refund?

  • Elizabeth

    Claudia: I wanted to stress the debt Western Europe owes to Byzantium since the medieval civilization is not well known in the United States where the adjective “Byzantine” has negative connotations. We should also give thanks to Arabs who established early medieval courts in Sicily and Spain for their contributions to the cuisines we revere today. La storia e sempre complicata, e secondo me, la gente chi mangia i formaggi e simpatica almeno che si chiama Claude e non Claudio!

  • Kalyne

    The problem with “Elements” is that equating French cooking with cooking skills/techniques in general is very dated, and (surprisingly) culturally very insular.

    Nothing wrong with learning and using French techniques–or acknowledging the debt certain other styles of cooking have to the French. However, by ignoring a variety of international ingredients and techniques that are so important for many modern kitchens, the book falls far short of its goal–to be a definitive reference.

    As for Strunk & White–no, their book doesn’t apply equally to writing in other languages and they never intended it to. Their scope was small and specific–to give concise tips for improving written (American) English.

    Ruhlman would have been better served to define his “Wlements of” goals in a similarly modest way….

  • faustianbargain

    claudia: that wont do because trotter has nothing to do with getting foie gras banned in chicago or anywhere. in fact, he went on record saying that he is against it. his decision was to not serve it in his own restaurant.

    thats a long way from ‘singlehandedly’ banning foie gras or expending energy in a ‘determined’ or ‘leading’ manner to ban foie gras.

    what i’d like to know is why there is so much misinformation, lies and fabrication of facts about his involvement in the banning of foie gras when there was, in fact, no effort on his part. or wolfgang puck.

    except for the disturbing fact that all this generates drama and ‘creates’ a villain(or a hero whose rallying cries ‘protects’ the rights of foie gras lovers), what is the purpose of this histrionics? because falsely accusing someone or getting a hard on by knocking someone’s reputation is certainly not going to contribute anything towards a reversal of the abomination that is the legislation of our tastebuds.

    this is the most idiotic..and conniving too…strategy ever employed by anyone who wants a restoration of rights. idiotic. anyone who continues along these lines run the risk of becoming a caricature of the ‘ignorant and clueless american’. spare us the laughs and giggles…there is enough of that going around due to other idiots.

  • faustianbargain

    to nondiregol: obviously, you are more familiar with karl rove’s edible underpants. i am not going to waste this precious space(and my time) to discuss the scents and tastes of male lingerie.

    i shall now take leave from this commentary forum with the satisfaction of knowing that regardless of whether or not you’d admit to committing a libel fart regarding trotter’s ‘singlehanded’ contribution to the ban of foie gras in chicago, you(and others) KNOW that it is nothing more than second hand verbal garbage by people who have nothing better to do with their time and surplus malice. happy wanking!

  • Claudia

    Faust, Why don’t we just term Trotter’s efforts to get foie banned in Chicago as “determined” or “leading” and not split hairs over “singlehanded”? And Elizabeth – you are quite correct in your scholarship – forks WERE probably used earlier, by the Romans – but I was talking about their larger introduction to Europe by the Venetians. (The Italians kept a lot of good stuff to themselves for centuries, instinctively knowing those Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys would just up and co-opt their ideas. You know . . . like with pate? Aromatherapy? Cuisine in general? (!!) (OK, this is just a little pre-Yuletide snark, gang!)

    Vincent – drinks anytime! How’s that caja working out?

  • nondiregol

    More foie fu: http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1213/p01s04-ussc.html

    The alderman involved probably had a role in passing obscenity laws. “I can’t define what’s obscene, but I know it when I see it.” Or, “I’ve never been to Paris, but I know what it smells like.” Apparently he does read the Tribune, or maybe he has people for that. Some vegan staffer might have picked up on it for him: “Boss, save the ducks. I’ve tasted foie gras and it tastes like Karl Rove’s underpants.”

    Now if pig livers were being banned in Chicago there would really be a fight.

    Trotter also carries the misfortune of bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to Karl Rove.

  • Frances Davey

    I watched Ratatoulle last night for the first time, and I wish to thank Mr. Ruhlman for Reach of a Chef and Elements, without which I would have been entirely lost in that wonderfully animated kitchen. It was kind of cool to recognize names from both the CG world and the culinary world in the credits.

  • faustianbargain

    to nondiregol: i have read that. which part of it suggests..and please allow me to quote you..

    “Trotter’s crime was single handedly getting foie gras banned from Chicago restaurants. Dick.

    This put him at sword point with fellow Chicago chef Rick Tramonto of Tru. I guess it get’s down to whose alderman has more juice.”

    “single handedly” seriously..which part of that link convinced you of that..a timeline of events will prove that you were wrong.

    chicago tribune has conveniently removed the original ‘charlie trotter debacle’ page from march 29, 2005 altho’ the april 5th version of it(your link) is still online.

    try this instead on egullet forums:

    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?s=d59e5af9f9ba411dd388675821b17307&showtopic=64581

    until of course, they try to pull that one down. they are known for stunts like that. if they do, let me know..i have the entire trotter mud smearing fest(sponsored and hatched by bourdain’s bony arse) in my files somewhere.

  • faustianbargain

    nondiregol..you said..

    “Trotter’s crime was single handedly getting foie gras banned from Chicago restaurants. Dick.

    This put him at sword point with fellow Chicago chef Rick Tramonto of Tru. I guess it get’s down to whose alderman has more juice.”

    really? single handedly, you say? what or who is your source? surely, you must have a timeline or something? a direct quote from trotter supporting a foie gras ban…something? anything?

    i didnt think so.

  • Elizabeth

    Very interesting comments about nationality and the demographics of the photograph of some of today’s most revered chefs!

    They’re not all European and American either, though there is now a decidedly Anglophilic edge when it comes to the dominant language of the nations represented. Some day these changes may become even more noticeable, perhaps as chefs move further away from variations on classic French cuisine, as our notions of great dining and great restaurants shift, and as economic and political factors transform the demographics of those who dine in the world’s best restaurants.

    I wonder how many decades away we are from seeing three or four women in as selective a group as this.

    * * *
    N.B. Usually Byzantium is given credit for the use of forks by diners, though the origins may go back even further in the Greco-Roman heritage of the great medieval empire. (Venice’s ties to Byzantium are legion, thus the fork’s journey to the West.) For Platina’s primary source, cf. the earlier *Libro de Arte Coquinaria* by Maestro Martino of Como. There are two fairly recent editions of the text translated into English, the book from The University of California Press with a scholarly introduction that places the 15th-century book in its historical context. The name of the famous Parisian restaurant, Taillievent, pays homage to an even earlier, 14th-century French chef and author of recipes found in a number of manuscripts edited by Terence Scully. I wouldn’t argue for the primacy of either French or Italian cuisine on the basis of this information.

  • nondiregol

    “for the person who wants to frog march charlie trotter for ‘crimes against foie gras’: pray do tell..what crimes did he commit?”

    Trotter’s crime was single handedly getting foie gras banned from Chicago restaurants. Dick.

    This put him at sword point with fellow Chicago chef Rick Tramonto of Tru. I guess it get’s down to whose alderman has more juice.

    Trotter’s partner in dickdom, Puck has followed along. Apparently Wolfie had to surrender his testacles when he was airlifted out of Austria and now he feels sorry for geese and ducks. Except that he’s probably roasting a goose for Christmas.

    Paula Wolfert made the comment, “I’d rather be a force fed duck than a Zacky chicken.”

  • Mathias Eichler

    Wow, inspirating conversation.
    Claudia – great insight.
    Nondiregol – Trotter was responsible for the Chicago debacle – I’m surprised the other chefs showed up to his birthday…
    About cultural cooking:
    I’m from Germany and I also find myself most comfortable cooking German dishes. Just received as Xmas gifts two amazing German cookbooks, unfortuantely, for non-germans, they’re written in German.
    But there’s a big food revival going on in Germany as well.
    I think Michael’s book is great for what it is, but the question is, if it comes at a good time. Michelin just gave Tokjo dozens of Stars, all over the world people are taking their “ethnic” cusine and rediscover it, and appreciate it in a new way and with that elevate it to new heights.
    It’s time for a new chapter in food. The French, without question pathed the way for us to see food/talk about food the way we do today.
    But the times are changing and looking into Haute Cusine of other countries and cultures will be the challenge, responsiblity and ultimately success of the Chef of the next generation.
    How great would it be if we could get “food inspiration” (be it cook books, food reads, magazines etc.) from other countries, cultures points of view…
    I’m off to have some Glühwein and German Christmas cookies.

  • Jehaine

    This sort of debate sort of mirrors what I once felt like when I took a cooking basics class with a local cooking school. I grew up predominately on home-cooked Korean food. I took a cooking class series over summer break for fun. The most valuable lessons I learned were knife techniques and making stock. The classes were interesting. However, for the most part, I didn’t find it useful or inspirational to me. Buerre Blanc? Mirepoix (onion, carrots, celery)? Poached Pears in Wine? Pate? These were foods and terms that I could care less about because these were dishes I had no interest in making at home. I think I really wanted to improve on flavoring and preparing the Korean dishes that I had come to love and grew up on. I am just like any other American who wants to improve or learn how to make the comfort foods that they had come to love from their childhood.

    My point is that French cooking style or fundamentals based on French cuisine wasn’t really that inspirational to me as far as teaching me the basics. That language of cooking wasn’t what I grew up with. So as I finished my cooking class series with a roomful of students of mostly European-heritage people, I felt a little bit like an outsider being exposed to a new food culture. Sauces finished with butter. Soups enriched with cream. These were dishes I never ate, although they sounded delicious. However, as part of the diet that I grew up with? To me…these were unimportant and I could live without them. But that doesn’t mean that nowadays, I’m not willing to try to make then. Just like the average European-heritage cook wants to try to make stir-fry Chinese.

  • Kirk

    Strunk and White didn’t titled their book “The Elements of English Style” or even “Elements of American Style”. Much of their book pertaining to grammar and usage is useful only to writers of the English language but a lot of the guide, perhaps the most subjective elements, are universally applicable to good, clear writing in almost any language since the topic is style, not grammar. Great style without good grammar, though not necessarily formal grammar, is unthinkable.
    Same applies to Ruhlman’s Elements. Grammar is the fundamentals of any school/language of cooking. Style is finesse.

    I was rereading Escoffier’s introduction to Le Guide Culinaire and was struck by his humility that this now classic tome was probably already outdated by time of publication. He knew that techniques changed and improved, better ways of creating classics and new combinations to form innovative dishes were the norm. He did not consider his collection the final word on cooking yet he maintained and demanded high standards. The followers should not adhere too strictly to orthodoxy the founder never intended.

  • faustianbargain

    for the person who wants to frog march charlie trotter for ‘crimes against foie gras’: pray do tell..what crimes did he commit?

    and where exactly did you read about it?

  • Nathalie

    LOL… Rachael Ray rewriting Escoffier, Yum-o!

    The best laugh I’ve had all day.

    Mr. Ruhlman, I’m disapointed at how vexed you appear to be with this review. The opinions clearly point to a serious lack of culinary knowledge.

    You continue to provide such unique insights into the craft. Don’t worry about it….

  • Claudia

    Brief digression, momentarily:

    No, Caterina de Medici did not bring the fork to France upon her marriage to Henri II, nodiregol – it was invented by the Venetians. But she did bring fashion, food, apothecaries (the legendary lavender fields of Provence were planted to supply her apothecaries and perfumers), etc., to the French Court. Probably the first cookbook in Europe was De honest voluptate e vulturine (On Honest Pleasures and Good Health), published in Latin in Venice in 1475, and written by Patina, a scholar, humanist and the Vatican librarian. The role of healthy eating and a good diet was intrinsically tied with the practice of apothecaries – who were the medieval precursor of medics, pharmacists, dieticians and nutritionists, if you will. It’s fascinating to me (whose earliest known ancestor was an Italian Renaissance apothecary) how closely tied the preparation, preserving and cooking of food (and the optimizing of its maximum healthful benefits)is with the practice of the apothecaries, and how profound an impact Caterina had on both food, perfume and holistic healing even today, just by bringing her cooks, etc., over from the Florentine court.

  • nondiregol

    Despite the fact that I think Charlie Trotter should be frog marched down Michigan Avenue for his crimes against American foie gras, and the fact that most of my cooking background is Italian, I’ll throw in with the surrender monkeys here. Sure Caterina de Medici brought that culinary innovation the fork to France when she married Henry II (I suppose today a Queen would come with her ISI foam whipper)but basically the French wrote it down.

    Back to Michael’s point; French is the “lingua franca” of the cooking world. In a different era it was also the language of diplomacy, contributing words like “detente” and so on.

    Meanwhile Rachael Ray is busy rewriting Escoffier as the short hand of the American home kitchen. What a state of affairs. “Sammy” anyone? It’s “yum-o.” Is there an eligible monarch we can marry her off to?

  • simon

    The French are the Yankees of cooking. They didn’t invent the game, but they sure did master it, and modernize it, and while others have had glory recently, they will never catch up and equal the success and heritage of French cooking. And dont doubt for a second that the French have some more wins in their future. What it comes down to is just straight up player hating. The French get hated on a lot, but it’s mostly jealousy. The French certainly dont hold the patent on arrogance and chauvinism either. How many female sushi chefs have you ever seen in your lifetime?

  • ntsc

    Publisher’s Weekly is written for the trade. When my wife still traveled in books, it was a weekly journal in our house, paid for by the publishing company she worked for.

    It has a reputation in the trade for its reviews having almost the same relevance to the book being reviewd as those in the New York Times book review.

    That is none to speak of.

  • Vincent

    Reading my last post I realise that I had not one point on topic. Sorry – it was the shit wine but now I have scotch.

    French Chefs are great. All Chefs are great – we learn from each other.

    Maybe trying to create a “seascape” with an IPOD doesn’t work. It would’nt work for me. Making something happen in London that should happen in france might be a bad deal. I don’t want the Cote in Manhattan.

    Scotch talking now – haha

  • ZenKimchi

    I remember on listening to the lecture series “History of the English Language,” that the words “beef”, “pork,” and “venison,” and other more common words that even non-chefs use come from French.

  • William Fincher

    Don’t worry vincent, santa has granted me the privellege of cuting mirepoix for what seemed like an eternity. I’m unfortunantly older than the average culinary student apparently the average age of the culinary student is dropping rapidly. Algebra has proven my biggest foe though. It was actually Ruhlmans “Making of a chef” that helped me make the decession to go to culinary school, it’s been more fun than i thought it would be but i had to make alot of sacrifices. Back on topic, no one can deny the effect that french tecniques have on cooking, today, tomorrow and yesterday.

  • faustianbargain

    sorry ruhlman..no matter how you slice and dice it, this one sucked. good luck with the next book. think outside the box and all that…know what i mean?

  • Vincent

    As I sit here, drinking the last of a shit bottle of merlot (but free) that a vendor dropped off as a Christmas gift today, I contemplate a few things.

    First is that a culinary student named William signed his first and last name stating that he would be “stuck” prepping mirepoix all day. If Santa Claus is reading this he will fill said prep in William’s duties until he can’t move his fingers. My preps and sous’ have knives that are surely older than he is.

    Second is the Asian aspect that a few people posted on – it would be tremendous to have the intricate demonstrate in book form that the French and Italians have left us from years past. To date I have read some, but in Asia, esp Japan, they hold the rights to the food they bring as an ultimate…it seems almost religious to their culture which is their right. Southeast Asian cuisine has become more prevalent in the US but has so many ties to European countries it is another topic all together. From what I understand, you can get a better baguette in Vietnam than in Paris (total bullshit, IMO).

    And C (told you I was at the bottom of a shit merlot):
    Michael Ruhlman – the book is great. It’s no Feast of Sunlight, but…
    Jealousy aside (always wanted to be a writer, damnit) you have written a book that will educate people in the proper way to cook – not chef, but cook. The fundamentals that you have given are essential to proper technique.

    Back to topic – there is no food uneaten. We are all recreating our ancestry – be it veg, protien, etc. Nothing we are doing is new, just different. It’s just nice to have new ways to do it.

  • William Fincher

    I’m currently a student in culinary school in Charleston SC. Charleston has a really cool culinary scene and alot of great chefs. Stage at any of those restaurants (save, the proto-typical asian places) and you had better know your french terms, you better know how to make stock, you better understand whats happening when you make hollandaise,or you might just get stuck cutting mirepoix all day. Bottom line, french techniques still are very important to alot of the worlds top restaurants. I’d also be willing to bet even the hippest-foam-slinging chefs started their careers using classical french techniques.

  • Skawt

    I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to discover that the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” has yet to grace this thread.

  • Juliette

    I think it would have been more accurate to title it “The Elements of French Cooking”.

    If for no other reason than the current implied comparison with what Strunk and White achieved is completely misleading.

    The book (which, btw, I bought) has its good points, true. But in no way does it do for cooking what Strunk and White did for writing.

    I think the critics who point this out are exactly right.

  • Hank

    I am just now reading your book, Michael, (and liking it, BTW) and I must reluctantly agree with your decision to go French. I mostly do Mediterranean food and have pretty much rejected the cooking of Le Guide or Pepin for the dishes of Crete or Puglia or Galicia.

    BUT, in the Western World, it is the French and no other county that has spent so many lives’ work thinking seriously about food, writing those thoughts down, teaching them to others and hammering out detail. I adore Italian food, but its beauty doesn’t lie in the technical or the scientific. Add French technique (your word is ‘finesse’) and you can elevate Italian food – if you don’t crop its ears and make it too stuffy, which happens.

    I do agree with tb’s criticism about “Elements’” Eurocentric orientation, though. The Japanese and Chinese think just as hard about high-end food, and their technique and finesse can exceed that of the best French chef. Some of it it truly breathtaking in a way European food never is. Personally, I liken Vietnamese food to Italian and Japanese to French.

    Has anyone tried to take the bedrock principles of high-end Chinese or Japanese food and applied it to the home cook? I reckon that’d be every bit as valuable as “Elements.”

  • EK

    I think it’s close-minded since the French did provide the fundamentals to cuisine, as you write, and now future chefs jump off from that point. Half the English language has its roots based in French. What were you supposed to do? Invent a new language of cooking? That wouldn’t be the “fundamentals”, then.

  • Tags

    BTW, it’s funny you should mention that, Andy.

    Bob DelGrosso’s “Elements of Opera” was promised best-seller status if he would just get rid of one letter then add another to the title.

  • doodad

    I am the same age as you Michael. I grew up with a Mom who did indeed try some of Julia’s lessons, but for the most part French cuisine was viewed in my child’s eyes as heavy, fussy, and made by a fat, fussy chef who you could imitate with a stereotypical accent.

    I ignored French cuisine, and indeed France, and studied other favorites. But, as I got better at cooking, I realized I knew nothing of the true basics, terms and techniques. This led me to revisit what I did not know and see that I was ignorant.

    Thanks to the internet, I have been able to interact with so many people and so much information that my world view has changed. You, (oddly) the program Chef, Ramsay and TB can take a large amount of credit in that. Why the French don’t suck indeed.

    PS I see a present shaped just like Elements under the tree for me from my wife. Yes!

  • tb

    It isn’t entitled “The Elements of Western Cooking”, it’s called “The Elements of Cooking”, period. That’s kind of like our “World Series”. I get the reasons why they’re called what they are called, but they show, in fact, a very limited world view. How can you call representatives from 4 countries “a fairly global portrait of the chef” unless we’re working with a very narrow definition of a chef?

    P.S.
    The first person who uses the word “ethnic” gets a giant raspberry blown in their direction.

  • Steve G.

    Odd that virtually every author with a blog that I read mentions at some point that Publisher’s Weekly reviewed their book either out of context or with a pre-set agenda (be it politics, humor, history… it doesn’t seem to matter).

    To be honest I know nothing about PW except that it tends to publish useless reviews — not bad, but actually useless for making buying decisions — of a lot of good books. The trend continues, I guess.

  • bcarter3

    “Indeed, it’s unlikely that someone like Adria or Blumenthal or, in the United States, Wylie Dufresne (he did the canapés at a party for the chefs at Trotter’s house) or Grant Achatz, two of this countries most notable practitioners of the avant garde.”

    You might want to have another go at that sentence.

  • Andy

    Whether or not French cuisine was, is, or should be the foundation of Western cuisine is not a valid criticism of the book. The argument the reviewer makes would be akin to criticizing a book called “The Elements of Music” by saying “it has too many Italian terms.”

  • logicalmind

    Vinotas Said:
    “The beauty of French cuisine’s elements is that it can please the everyman (eg, duck confit) as well as the high-end customer (eg, complicated sauces, etc…).”

    I guess this is where the confusion lies. Why could one not create duck confit using modern techniques rather than the old way? For example, you could prepare duck confit sous vide.

    I am also not clear on how you could have more complicated sauces than by using mg products and techniques. From hollandaise that is nearly impossible to separate(or even fry it like at WD-50) to combinations of ingredients that could never go together in a traditional way.

    These techniques are not mainstream, but in 10 years we may see things differently.

  • Mike

    Put it this way, while I love French food and other European cuisines, I still really enjoy Asian cuisines and find they don’t always get their just due – from Japanese to Korean to Thai to especially Vietnamese.

    That said, I’m guessing that not many people realize that the much-loved bowl of Pho actually has its origins in the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine during the colonial days…

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1997/11/05/FD48543.DTL

    So, perhaps the French culinary influence goes beyond just Western cuisine.

  • Vinotas

    I agree with JD.

    The reason French cooking techniques became world-reknowned was because they are bedrock principles from which many other types of cooking can spring (even molecular gastronomy, which, while fun and interesting, is IMHO a short-term and very limited phenomenon). The beauty of French cuisine’s elements is that it can please the everyman (eg, duck confit) as well as the high-end customer (eg, complicated sauces, etc…).

    Now, that being said, I do agree that the current attitude in French cooking as well as society does not lend itself to innovation and experimentation. Many of my friends have moved to the US and the UK to escape this stifling climate. It’s too bad, and hopefully Sarko will manage to change things without too many strikes.

    Disclaimer: I am part French, but my palate is quite worldly, and I’ll eat/drink pretty much anything (and have).

  • Kay

    Well, realistically, how many more ways do you think you would have been drawn and quartered if you had attempted to speak authoritatively on the subject of fugu preparation or provided “your family’s” secret recipe for kimchi?

  • JD

    I’m probably about to create a shitstorm, but I strongly disagree with you, logicalmin. While the mol. gas. community of pH and purees and hydrocolloids is quite exciting and tasty, I do not see it as a new foundation of cuisine.

    The reason that Michael’s book can be called “Francocentric” is because one can take the bedrock principles found in French cuisine and apply it to almost anything else. It is a foundation with limitless possibilities. Just because there are techniques from French cuisine does not limit one to preparing the heavy, old-guard dishes of yore.

  • logicalmin

    There are many levels of cooking and many books designed to cater to those levels. It appears that the goal of your book is to educate the entry level cook by placing a vast number of definitions into a single reference. As well as providing a common lexicon to those in the industry.

    As for french cooking becoming archaic, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think many cooks even realize how different the avant garde chefs are from the every day cook. The techniques of the avant garde chef are vastly different nowadays. It is possible to combine many ingredients in unusual ways. With ever increasing numbers of textures. Cooks of the future will no longer say “Give me a tablespoon of blonde roux”, They will say “this puree has a ph of 7, give me the xanthan gum”.

  • TikiPundit

    “In a restaurant culture perpetually seeking the next new thing…”

    Well, that’s half the problem with critics right there.